Have you ever visited a place for the first time and felt immediately as though it is your home away from home? Today, for the second time I visited Sidhehaven, and that’s how it feels. An hour and a half from Seattle there is a modest two-and-a-half acre parcel with a small house on it. It’s far enough away from the city that there’s room to breathe. It might look like a hobby farm, or relaxed retiree oasis, but it’s more than that.
What happens there and what’s been added to the property, is what makes it really special. This is a home and a haven for Sherry Kirk, who also uses it as her artist’s studio.
The first time I went to visit, I went to play with clay in an active potter’s studio. I went to put my hands on a potters wheel and remember the feeling after more than 15 years. She led me across the wooden porch, through a screen door, to her studio. The smell of clay dust, wet metal, glazes, and moist sponges is still familiar and beautiful to my nose. It transported me to my college studio, where I spent hours every day perfecting my own art so many years ago. It also took me back to that time in my life when art came first.
As I spun clay, Sherry spun stories of her past. I heard about her military history. We have a mutual friend who lives in Chicago. One day we both appeared side by side on Facebook, and the friend suggested we connect, so we did. They were in the military together in Turkey and Iraq and Afghanistan. Sherry told of helicopter runs over borders; some as a recon, some as unsanctioned “supply runs” for a group of her buddies on one side or the other of a border she was or wasn’t supposed to be on. “Yeah, I got an a little bit of trouble for that one,” she says with a smile and a giggle. My original thought was that she was standard military personnel, now retired and relaxing on her rural parcel not far from the military base she once worked at. “I’m a much different person now than I was in the Army.” And the person she has become is what decorates Sidehaven.
Sherry and I spent hours trading stories and going back-and-forth the first time I visited. She told me about the seeds she received from one community member and the plants she traded with another, and dinner in trade for massage, or tools. The barter system works well here. She gets art supplies as donations from other members of the community because everyone knows she’s good at passing things around to other people who need them. “We just received a welding setup and I am excited to get that up and running.”
Once I sat at the wheel, it was just like riding a bike. Well, after a few tries it was. Muscle memory is a beautiful thing. But while my hands were immersed in earth-red clay, I spent as much time studying the studio as I did making pots. Wildly creative drawings and paintings mingle with army plaques and decorations along the walls of her studio. A T-rex in chalk, a Master Sergeant award, a fairy holding a machine gun, a scantily clad vixen with a whip and sergeant stripes tattooed on her arm. Most are gifts from people in her community. On the floor, in the center of the studio begins a poem or a manifesto; words to consider if you live here, work here or visit. The words spiral out in a circle, decorating the floor as they reveal the poem’s message.
“None of this was here when I bought it, but when I retired from the military, I wanted a place where I could enjoy doing pottery,” she says. So she converted the master bedroom into a pottery studio, two years ago, and that became the heart of Sidhehaven, pronounced “she haven”. The Sidhe are a group of elves and dwarves who live underground in Irish mythology, she explains. “So that’s where I got the name, but it’s a play on words as well. It’s a haven for me, for the community.” Her pottery is often adorned with Celtic knot work and designs reminiscent of Gaelic imagery, and with a decidedly Hippie flair.
She has an Etsy store that keeps her business hopping; she’s often backed up on orders for her latest designs of coffee mugs, pitchers, and other functional pieces.
She has also put in a stone labyrinth and herb garden, food garden, hot tub, performance stage, two fire pits, flower beds, and a yurt, where interns or guests often stay. The renewable, reusable and environmentally friendly live here. There’s a composting toilet surrounded and secluded by tall bamboo which feed on the wastewater that the toilet produces. There are chickens and ducks roaming the property between the gardens, and a very affectionate cat.
But at the heart of Sidhehaven are Sherry’s stories. Today I am here again, and brought my children this time, to let them experience the art I love so much. They’re working on the potter’s wheel.
As she walks us through her home and then through the gardens, there are stories of each place, each room, each stone. She tells of when she was in the military, of what she wanted when she was done, why there’s no carpet on the floor, and why there’s money from around the world decoupaged onto her dining table. The deck is covered in beautiful hanging things that spin in the wind and make delightful sounds, and a cat stretched out in the sun, under them. There are ceramic pots and bowls filled with shells and sea glass, and plants trailing down small steps. It’s eclectic and shiny and unique. It’s every bit Sherry’s heart and vision, brought to life in a place, a haven.
She said she tried to make it an intentional community living space once, but was surprised when the people who were most excited about the idea, didn’t understand that it involved doing some of the work in order to make it function.
She explains some steps of converting a regular house into a haven. “We couldn’t afford real flooring, but we couldn’t leave it bare, and I hate carpet. So we put outdoor paint on the subfloor, then painted the stone design. It was supposed to have lacquer on top, but we didn’t get that far.”
In the main room hangs a large batik of a graceful, bountiful tree with Gaelic knot work designs around it. “That’s the design for Sidhehaven,” she says. It’s repeated perfectly in the tattoo on her right arm, and in some of her pottery pieces.
I run my fingers over the molds and pieces she has in production, enjoying her delicate craft work in the red earthenware. “I never want to spend my time just to make 20 pieces all exactly the same.” She’s interested in the unique, the individual, each piece with its own personality. And that’s what her customers get. Right now she’s working on a steam punk series of coffee cups. She shapes and places each gear on cups in preparation for tomorrow’s bisque fire.
We’ll go back soon to see the bisqued pieces that the kids made when they were there today. I wonder what she’ll be working on then.